Tag Archives: forgiveness

Do I Dare To Eat a Peach?

End of the Season

End of the Season

Tonight at the grocery store, I sorted through a late summer box of peaches. Picked each one up and smelled it to see if it would ever get ripe. Checked the soft skin for signs of brown rot. Looked at the stem spot to see if it was a split seed. I placed six in a plastic bag and thought for a few seconds about a boy I’ve had a crush on as long as I can remember.

His name is Jeffrey. I won’t say his last name but I will say that I bumped into his wife a few months ago and told her I wanted to write this story and she said it would be fine. And besides, if I didn’t tell you his name, I couldn’t tell you the story about how when I was in third grade and Daddy found a little abandoned puppy in the middle of the highway, I named that puppy Jeffrey after my secret crush. Until the next day, when Daddy broke the news that the puppy was female so I changed her name to Jeffy.

Our grandmothers were friends. Our mamas have been friends since the first day of Kindergarten. His mother and my father were neighbors and thick as thieves when they were kids. He and my sister were born just hours apart and were close friends. I sat and talked with his mama last month and ate a slice of her heavenly pound cake.

I think the last time I saw Jeffrey in person was when he sang at my Pop’s funeral. (Yes, in addition to being good-looking, smart, and kind, he can sing too.) At the graveside service, when he came over to say hello, I got the giggles. It’s that bad. I went up to his sister and confessed, “When your brother is toothless and slobberin’ and 100 years old, I will STILL think he’s the cutest thing in the world!” She said she would too. And my sister concurred as well.

So now that I’ve embarrassed myself and Jeffrey by extension, let me get to why peaches make me think of him.  Back in the day, Jeffrey and I both worked at a peach stand in our home town. As the years went by, he took over the running of the peach stand and became The Boss.

One summer, oh THIRTY YEARS AGO, I worked for Jeffrey. I knew the responsibilities well. He would go to the farmers market to buy crates of peaches at the start of the week. Each morning, I’d sort through the peaches (it’s called “culling”) and throw the rotting ones or the split seeds into a box that swarmed with yellow jackets getting drunk on the nectar. We’d sell that whole box of culls for $5 to any ladies who were making jam that week. I’d take the good peaches and make up pretty baskets to display on the stand–$3 for the small, $5 for the medium, $7 for a peck.

One week, towards the end of the season, we got a lot of split seeds. That’s where the peach looks fine on the outside, but if you look up at the top, there’s a hole right down in the heart of it. Those will be rotten from the inside out. No good. Jeffrey told me clearly NOT to sell any split seeds, to pitch them in the cull box. Then he left. I started making baskets and EVERY peach was split. I sure didn’t want to let him down, but if I followed his instructions, they’d all have to be thrown out. I figured that people could get some use out of most of the peach, so I went ahead and sold them. The next day when I got to work, he was furious because he had had someone come back and complain about the peaches. I was crushed, but he was right.

He didn’t ask me to work for him anymore and I was heartbroken that I had let him down.

And here I am. Forty six years old and I still remember disappointing him whenever I buy peaches in the grocery store.

So Jeffrey, I apologize for that bad decision.

The other reason I wanted to write this is that I wanted Jeffrey to know how special he is. If I could pick a boy for my girls to adore, I would pick someone just like Jeffrey.

The other day, my friend Hester made a reference to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot. It’s a poem narrated by a man who finds himself dithering into the end of his life, worried about how he is perceived as silly by those around him. He is coming to realize that he is not Prince Hamlet. His hair is thinning and he has “measured out (his) life in coffee spoons.” My favorite lines are these:

I grow old….I grow old….

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

Do I dare to eat a peach? Will I look silly if the juice runs onto my shirt? Will I become the topic of idle chatter?

While I was looking at those peaches in the grocery store tonight, and thinking of Jeffrey, and how I still feel bad for letting him down 30 years ago, and Prufrock’s peach, and the lessons of time, I realized this–we grow older but we only grow wiser if we let some of that stuff go. I have been carrying around that little kernel of shame about a mistake I made in 1984…since 1984. That’s just silly.

I am learning to apologize when I am wrong. Forgive myself when I am foolish. Be grateful for life-long friends. Run the risk of looking silly. Tell stories that remind people how special they are, still.

Dare to eat a peach.

peach-437680_1280

The Teacher and the Professor

Virginia Bowman Wilcox, PhD

Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox

I am tickled pink for my Wesleyan College sister, Virginia Bowman Wilcox, who was just named one of the 20 best education professors in the state of Georgia!  She’s come home to Wesleyan and currently serves as the head of our Education department, where she funnels all her genius and passion for teaching into the next generations of classroom leaders.

Well.

Let me tell you a story about Virginia’s early years in school and a teacher who made a deep impact on her for years.  Names have been changed because…well, the usual reason.

Virginia was in first grade, Mrs. Fineman’s class, when she made the magical connection between the words printed on the page and the story they were telling–she discovered that she could READ.  She was ecstatic!  But there weren’t many books in Virginia’s house.  Just two–the phone book and her mother’s Bible.  Virginia hungered for books.

Mrs. Fineman had a shelf filled with books in her first grade classroom.  She told the children, “These are my books.  I bought them with my own money.  You are never to touch them without my permission and they will never leave this room.”  In the way of small children, Virginia knew the difference between right and wrong…but she wanted to read more than anything.  Each afternoon, she found a way to sneak two of Mrs. Fineman’s books into her bookbag.  She carried them carefully back to her bookless house and told her mother that reading them was part of her homework.  The next day, she brought them back to Mrs. Fineman’s book shelf without a scratch or a smudge.  From September to January, Virginia and her mother spent each evening snuggled close together over the purloined books.

But in January….

This is the part of the story where I interrupted Virginia and squealed, “Mrs. Fineman knew all along, didn’t she?  She was LETTING you sneak those books home!”  Shush, shush, Ashley….let the story unfold.  

One afternoon, Virginia had two books in her book bag and was headed towards the bus.  Mrs. Fineman ran after her with a permission slip that had to be signed and returned the next day.  Virginia held out her hand for the paper, but Mrs. Fineman insisted on putting it directly in the book bag so it wouldn’t be lost.  That’s when she discovered the books, HER BOOKS.  She snatched them out of Virginia’s hands and stormed off.  She didn’t need to ask any questions.  This child was stealing.

By the time broken-hearted Virginia got to her house, her mother had already been called by the school principal and had left work early to deal with her daughter.  Even after she understood that Virginia had never intended to steal the books, she punished her daughter anyway for breaking the rule and lying to her mother about homework.  There were no books to read that night.  The next day at school, Mrs. Fineman chastised Virginia in front of the whole first grade then made her move her desk into a corner of the room so she could be ostracized from the group for her crime.

Virginia stopped reading.  She didn’t read another book until she was in sixth grade.  She faked her way through book reports and did the bare minimum on assigned reading.  Mrs. Fineman’s punishment still stung.  Luckily for all of us, Virginia slipped back into reading when she found a book on the school bus and couldn’t resist it anymore.

Obviously, the story didn’t end there.  Virginia went on to be the first person in her family to graduate from college, Wesleyan College.  She excelled in school and got her degree in Early Childhood Education.  While teaching for her day job and starting her family, she finished her Master’s and her PhD at Auburn University.  Virginia landed her dream job–professor of Education–then worked her way up to department chair.  She’s boundless.

And this next part of the story is why I love and respect her so very much.  Back in May, Virginia wanted to do a Kentucky Derby themed fundraiser at the business that she and her husband own, North Macon Crossfit.  She contacted the director of the equestrian center at Wesleyan to see if there was some project that could be funded with a couple hundred dollars.  The director came up with a perfect idea!  There was a young girl who hung out at the stable and helped care for the horses.  She wanted to attend the equestrian summer camp but her family didn’t have the money.  Enter Virginia and her generous friends and her giving heart.  They raised the money and made arrangements to surprise the girl with a scholarship to the summer camp she yearned for.

That little girl’s last name?  Fineman, of course.  Granddaughter of the first grade teacher who hadn’t taken the time to find out why Virginia had “stolen” all those books and returned them without a trace.  A teacher who couldn’t bend her rule to help a child who needed a little boost.  But Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox, Professor of Education, gave a little girl a leg up towards reaching her dream.  I asked her what she felt when she discovered the connection, if she wanted to wreak any kind of vengeance on Mrs. Fineman.  Nope, not a bit.  

Nothing stops Virginia.  She’s just that kind of kind.  

If He’ll Cheat With You…

Back Story:  In September of 1999, I found lipstick on his collar but he said “it was only dinner” and he started going to therapy.  Things got better between us.  Then Fartbuster told me in April of 2000 that he wanted to move out for a while and “get his head straight.”  Three weeks later, he comes clean (on the advice of his therapist) that he had had an affair in the fall.  He said they had run around for a few months, but he ended it in December because he wanted our marriage to work out.  Then there was one teensy leetle slip up in February and now she says she’s pregnant.  Oh, well THANKS FOR TELLING ME.  He was thinking that he could move out, take care of that little situation, then move right back in and we could go on with our lives and I would never be the wiser.  His therapist had said something along the lines of “Bitch, PLEASE.  You need to tell the truth.”  (Actually, his therapist was an older man and had a German accent, so it probably didn’t sound like that, but I can’t say for sure–patient confidentiality and all, y’know.)

(That part was hard to write because I’m having one of those flashbacks to “I can’t tell people that someone cheated on me!  I’ll look gullible and worthless.”)

(But hey, guess what?  I’m still writing and it’s OK!)

(Yep, still here…heart rate returning to normal…)

Yadda yadda yadda.  There is a year’s worth of stories about the ebb and flow and peaks and valleys of trying to decide whether to stay married or not.  There’s the Waffle House Waitress story, the Small of the Back story, the Thanksgiving Phone Call, the Funniest Voicemail Ever…all to come, in due time, Gentle Readers.  But today’s story is about my one and only interaction with this other woman who stepped into my marriage.

I never met her.  I don’t know her name, address, phone number.  At first, I wanted to.  I wanted to scream and rave and all that clichéd stuff from telenovellas, but I was under the care of some pretty wise counselors who said, “What’s that going to fix?”  Then I decided that I wanted all her info in a closed envelope so that IF I ever decided to contact her, I could.  Fartbuster said she didn’t know any details about me, so it would be best if I didn’t know anything about her.  Easier to rebuild.  I let it go.  (Heart rate rising.  Sentences getting shorter.  Breathe.)  My drive to know about her was all about control–this infidelity had made me question everything in my life; my world was out of control and by god I was ready to take some BACK.  But I would have been grabbing at the wind.  In the end, I only knew one thing about her–she was from another country and I knew which one.

Flash forward about 18 months.  I am happily divorced, have moved to another city, have been dating Richard for a while.  Haven’t spoken to Fartbuster in almost a year.  Everything is hunky dory.  

Artist's representation of what I might have looked like on that phone call.  Except my hair is shorter.  And I'm not a man.  Or blond.

Artist’s representation of what I might have looked like on that phone call. Except my hair is shorter. And I’m not a man. Or blond.

I’m sitting at work one afternoon when my phone rings.  I go through the mechanical, “Hi, this is…”  The other voice says, “Is this the person who was married to Fartbuster McCheater?” (not his actual name)  Thinking it’s a telemarketer or collections agent, I answered, “I WAS married to him but I am no longer.”

She took a deep breath and said, “You don’t know me, but…” and THAT’S WHEN I hear the accent.  An accent from that country where she was born!  KABLOOEY.  I shut my office door and said, “I think I DO know who you are!  Is this the woman who had an affair with my ex-husband???”

“Yes, and I’m calling to apologize.  I can’t believe I did that to another woman.”  I was speechless.  And if you know me, you know that is RARE.

Now picture Scooby Doo going “Huh-RUNH?”  That was me. 

She was still talking.  I said, “Look, I don’t really have anything to say to you, but I do respect your wish to apologize.  That’s more than he ever did.  But that’s about all I can think of to say to you.”  I remember shrugging and shaking my head in disbelief.

She wasn’t done talking!  She said, “Oh, I had a feeling you were nice!  He always told me that everything about the divorce was your fault and you were such a bitch but I can tell just by the way you’re treating me that you’re a nice person!  I really don’t deserve your kindness but it’s been bothering me for so long and I wanted to tell you…” 

Ummm…hmmm…I flummoxed, discombobulated and gobsmacked.  So I got honest.  I snorted.  “I really don’t need validation from you…but thanks.  Of COURSE he told you that I was the bitch!  The one thing you knew for sure about him was that he was a liar.” 

Then it hit me.  Why was she calling me NOW after all this was settled and done?  I asked, “Hey, let me guess…he cheated on you, right?” 

She squawked, “SO MANY TIMES!  I’d catch him and he’d apologize and he’d do it again.  I can’t tell you how many times he’s lied to me.  ” 

And that’s when I boiled it down for her.

“If he’ll cheat WITH you, he’ll cheat ON you.”

She got a little quiet but stayed on the line.  I had been ambushed into this conversation but I had reached a point where I felt like wrapping it up.  “Look.  Getting rid of him was the best thing that every happened to me and it will probably be the same for you.  That’s all I have to say.  Goodbye.”

Are you clutching your pearls yet, Gentle Reader?  Can you IMAGINE what was going through my brain as I stared at that phone.  Fartbuster had promised me that this woman knew NOTHING about me.  He and I had different last names.  She knew my name, my phone number, where I worked…I was LIVID.  I suddenly found myself out of control again and I wanted it BACK.  So I called my friend in Telecomm and asked if he could trace a call.  Nope.  Dammit.  There is no *69 on a switchboard.  Why is life not like the movies???  i-dont-know-who-you-are-but-i-will-find-you-and-i-will-kill-you

That night, I told Richard.  He was like, “That was decent of her.  What do you want to do for dinner?”  Men just don’t GET IT. 

I called my girl friend and she was like, “NO WAY!!!!  Girl.  GIRL!  No way.  WHAT?”  That was more like it.  I told her how furious I was that Fartbuster had revealed details about me to this other person.  I hadn’t spoken to him in months, but I was ready to call him up and let him have it. 

I didn’t.  The opposite of love isn’t anger.  It’s apathy.  Here’s what I realized:  if I had called him in a fit of rage, he would have turned it into just another example of me being the bad guy. But if I didn’t say a word, didn’t react, I kept the position of power–apathy.  I knew in my deepest heart that the two of them would argue one day or he would start yammering about me and she would say, out of the blue, “You know what?  I CALLED your ex-wife and I talked to her and she was NICE to me.”  Imagine the stupefaction on his face when he realized THAT had happened and I hadn’t even bothered to call to yell at him. 

Oh?  The other woman?  The one who got cheated on “so many times?”  She married him.  For a while, at least.